FIA-20-0035 - In the Matter of Argus Media, Inc.

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On June 24, 2020, the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) granted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) appeal filed by Argus Media, Inc. (Appellant) concerning a FOIA
request made to the Department of Energy's Strategic Petroleum Reserve Project Management Office (SPR). Appellant's FOIA request sought copies of contracts for storage
of crude oil by private companies in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. SPR provided Appellant with nine contracts in response to its FOIA request, but redacted portions of the
contracts identifying the grade of crude oil contracted for storage and the amount of crude oil the companies would leave in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as compensation for storage on the basis that this information was commercial or financial information exempt from disclosure under Exemption 4 of the FOIA. Appellant asserted on appeal that the companies had not provided the redacted information under an assurance of privacy and that they had no reasonable expectation of privacy because SPR routinely published contract information related to the sale of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. In addition, Appellant argued that disclosure of the information could not cause harm to the companies' competitive position, and therefore that SPR should not have withheld the records pursuant to Exemption 4 even if it was applicable. OHA determined that SPR had not established that Exemption 4 was applicable to the redacted portions of the contracts because there was insufficient information as to the extent to which the information was customarily maintained as confidential, the companies had not provided the information under an assurance of privacy, and there was no reasonable basis for the companies to assume that the final contract terms would remain confidential. In addition, OHA determined that, under the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, SPR was required to assess the extent to which disclosure of the information would cause genuine harm to an interest protected under Exemption 4 before withholding the information. Therefore, OHA granted Appellant's appeal. OHA Case No. FIA-20-0035.